Pesach, Part I: Preparation

Getting ready for Pesach is challenging under any circumstances. You have clean the house thoroughly for chametz, going room-by-room, and then take measures to prevent re-contamination. You have to do a tremendous amount of shopping, essentially re-stocking your food supply in its entirely, since everything has to be certified kosher-for-Pesach and cannot have been opened (for fear that it was contaminated with chametz), not to mention all of the food needed for the holiday (and Shabbos chol hamoed) meals. Oh, and you’ll need candy to give the children for good questions & answers at the seder, which really keeps them interested. All the laundry and dry cleaning needs to get done, because (except for kids’ clothes), you can’t do it even on chol hamoed. This is also a traditional time to get new clothes – in honor of the holiday, and because shopping for other-than-holiday needs also can’t be done on chol hamoed. You’ll also want to get presents (toys and books) for the kids before Pesach. Then there’s all the cooking, which can’t be done until at least part of the kitchen is cleaned and prepped to make it free of chametz.

Manifestly unbreakable if it can withstand a pre-Pesach shutdown of Jerusalem.

Manifestly unbreakable if it can withstand a pre-Pesach shutdown of Jerusalem.

Here in Jeruslaem, basically the entire city (probably the entire country) is out shopping en masse for the weeks leading up to Pesach. So, of course, this was the perfect time for a street-closing, traffic-jamming, city-paralyzing visit from the President of the United States! To be clear, on the whole, Israelis were and are glad for the trip (and many of his remarks were well-received). But there was a lot of grumbling about the timing. Case in point, I heard a woman on the bus refer sardonically to the upcoming Tuesday as “Yom Slishi, Erev Obama” (“Tuesday, ‘Obama Eve'”).

Obama: flagsThe President steered clear of the Old City, and we planned shopping locations around his visit, so we were largely unaffected. We did come back a bit early from our own ill-timed trip to Eilat (post coming) so that we could return the rental car to our local Hertz, right next to the King David Hotel where Obama stayed, before they closed down the street. The only other evidence of his trip for us were a lot of loud helicopter overflights for those few days. I tried to convince the boys that we were going to invite Obama over, since he’d be glad to hang out with some Chicagoans all the way over here, but they have become wise to my deceptions.

Jonathan Pollard has become a major cause célèbre here, and there were signs all over pushing for his pardon. I really don’t want this blog to get political (and I’m not putting up with any comment wars!) but, FWIW, my thoughts on the topic jibe fairly well with this.

Obama: Yes You CanObama: Shelach Et Achi








For those of us in the Rova, Pesach preparations were further complicated by a music festival whose timing and necessity were highly questionable. And, to my great amusement, both were indeed questioned in the English version of a notice to Rova residents from the police deparment. The Hebrew side of the notice seemed to play it straight, so I’m assuming that they asked some Anglo Rova resident to do the English version, with this result:

Rova parking notice

Although we managed to work around these complications, Pesach prep was an intensive experience. Being that this was our only Pesach here, we had no sets of dishes, cookware, or appliances for use on Pesach. We usually go to our cousins in New Jersey for the holiday, so we hadn’t had to do a complete house cleaning, including flipping the kitchen, in years. We also had to learn the ropes in terms of all of the extra kashrus issues there are here in Israel on Pesach.

In fact, Pesach shopping here was far more difficult than in Chicago. Lots of otherwise kosher-for-Pesach products here contain kitniyos (grain-like and legume products that are prohibited during Pesach to Ashkenazic Jews, for reasons described at the link), which Sephardim can eat. Given that half of Israeli Jews (and probably more than half of kosher-keeping Israeli Jews) are Sephardim, I understand the prevalence of kitniyos products. But why in the world do they put kitniyos in products – like macaroons – that no self-respecting Sephardi would eat?

Pesach hechsher madnessEven aside from the kitniyos issue, the mehadrin (higher level) hashgachos (kosher supervision/certification) here went crazy for Pesach. For example, on a tremendous number of products under the supervision of the (mehadrin) Eida Charedis, its hashgacha specifically excluded Pesach. This left them under Rabbanut supervision alone, which we don’t rely upon. In a few situations, it seems the reason was a halachic difference of opinion, such as with diet pop, because the Israeli mehadrin hashgacha considers aspartame to be kitniyos while the Rabbanut (and American hashgachos) do not. But there were other situations (like that pictured at right) where the Eida Charedis excluded Pesach, while a different mehadrin hashgacha (here, Chasam Sofer) did certify for Pesach, including that there were no kitniyos. Why the Eida Charedis said “no” is a mystery.

Between all of the kitniyos and mehadrin hashgacha issues, we never were able to find any margarine, pickles, olives, salad dressing, or non-beet horseradish. We found almost no cookies or macaroons (who would have thought that I’d ever be complaining about trouble finding macaroons?). Only at the last minute did I find candy to hand out at the seder. I don’t think we found any spreads, other than date spread, to put on matzah. All of this despite the fact that I even went up to shop at the big American-style Yesh supermarket in Ramat Eshkol.

By contrast, in Chicago (or NJ) I would readily have found all of this, and more. I’m certainly not complaining about spending Pesach here – to the contrary, it was wonderful – but the kashrus situation in Israel is ridiculous, and beyond ridiculous when it comes to Pesach and Ashkenazim.

Well, that sure was a whiny post… Pesach positivity to come soon in future Parts, IY”H!

3 thoughts on “Pesach, Part I: Preparation

  1. RT

    PS Dan/Debbie, you guys should have called me to ask where to find some of your basics. Yes Yesh in Ramat Eshkol might seem to be a great option, but it’s actually one of my least favorite stores bc it has just about nothing! They don’t even have Cheerios (only Honey Nut for some odd reason). Sorry I didn’t think in advance to call you and see if I could help! For better or worse I know the low down on way too many stores in this half of Jlem. So if you’re every looking for something and can’t find it, call me.
    PS If you want American stuff, there is an American store in Ramat Eshkol that is very good, I think it’s on Paran, and also Express Market in Geula has tons of stuff in general and for Pesach. They had OUP olives, Gefen decent mayo (that was new this year and incredible!) and lots more. Forget about margarine here – use palm oil.
    In general the best market I have found overall is Rami Levi Mehadrin in Har Nof. They dont have much US stuff besides things that are brought in , but have almost every Mehadrin product that normally I have to go to 3 different places to find all of them, at excellent prices.
    The other difficulty here in Israel is that there is a small time window for many things. Go too early and the Pesach stuff isnt out yet; go too late and it’s gone already. Best time to shop is about 7-10 days before Chag. I started 2 weeks before, and then did 2 additional runs in the next week. Then just before chag, we went to the fruit store for last minute stuff, and the local grocery first thing in the morning for dairy, and we were done.
    And Eida hardly certifies anything for Pesach because their standards are incredibly high and most things it’s not possible to guard them to that level, and most of their constituency doesnt even hold by THEM for Pesach! Shmuel has a friend who doesnt use even Eida for Pesach except things that cant be made at home – it’s a short list. Grape juice, matzah and I think Turkish coffee. That being said, why so much goes Chasam Sofer Bnei Brak and nothing better, really I don’t have a clue. I have friends who dont hold it for Pesach, but I dont know how I would manage without it, granted that even the ketchup, soup mix and even date paste are only CSBB.

  2. Pingback: Pesach Part III: Eilat! | From Chicago to Jerusalem

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